Phonograph Answering Machine - Saves phone messages forever.

Thomas Edison briefly mentioned the idea of using his phonograph to record telephone conversations in 1878 (according to this site, which doesn't cite any sources, but seems to be associated with Rutgers University, which isn't iron-clad proof of accuracy, but does lend some credibility). So, he nearly invented the answering machine. By 1953, magnetic tape technology was appearing in the consumer market. So, why were they still using phonographs to record phone messages?

Interestingly,  as early as 1926, AT&T had a problem with the idea of recording phone conversations on public phone lines for some reason. You could, however, record everything you wanted on a private line. Weird. In 1949, the FCC allowed the recording of audio on all AT&T lines and the telephone answering machine was born... sort of. Still being weird about things,  the FCC placed tight restrictions on what technology you could use to record audio from phone lines.

 That's great and all, but why a record and not tape, which could be erased? Maybe one of the FCC's rules about recording technology made tape a no-no? Maybe magnetic tape technology was still new and expensive? For whatever reason, this goofy thing was the only game in town in 1953.

The outgoing message was recorded on a small 4-inch record, while the incoming messages were recorded on a larger eight-inch blank disc. For those of you too young to understand, vinyl records cannot be erased and re-recorded without melting them down and pressing new blanks out of the recycled material. This is baffling to me. A tape machine has fewer moving parts (I'm pretty sure) and doesn't involve the delicate needle and tonearm. Most of all, you don't have to constantly buy new blank records.

The blank disc could store 140 messages, each limited to 23 seconds of record time. Just in case you forgot how records work, these messages were stored forever. Every wrong number, petty request and wise ass crank call were indelibly imprinted on vinyl for you to enjoy until the seas boil and the moon falls from the sky.

But it's not all baffling frustration here. There's amusement to be had. Look at the guy in the pictures. He's supposed to be a TV repair man, but he looks like a detective. I know he's supposed to be taking down the address of Mrs. Hopkins, but he could just as easily be getting an anonymous tip on a moider! "Hello. Dis is de-tec-a-tive Joe Bullet. If youse has a clue about da dioty moider what happened down at da gin joint the other night, leave a talking message on my phonograph and I'll come rough ya up, and find out what you  know, see?... ya no good bum."

It's also worth noting that in the article, they call the machine a "robot". technically, it's accurate, since the definition of a robot is any machine designed to do the work of a human. Still, this thing is as much of a robot as my garage door opener. I demand that, to be called a "robot", a thing must be able to move around under it's own power and possibly go berserk, with the option of the occasional killing spree, due to malfunction complicated by the incomprehensibility of human emotions.

For further reading on Thomas Edison, and why he was kind of a dick, we urge you to do a search on "Edison VS. Tesla" and their shared history. Among other things, Edison electrocuted an elephant, trying to win market dominance in the was of AC versus DC power. Spoiler: Tesla's AC power delivery system is now our standard and Edison's DC system is not.

Update: The Phil Are Go! research department has just found out that Edison did build a wax cylinder answering machine, but it could only be used to record "Mary Had a Little Lamb".

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craig f. said...

Joke #1: Housewife: My TV blew a gadget. Mike Hammer, TV Repair guy: No, that's just frost on your mustache. HAA HA HAAA! No wait, that's a different joke.

Joke #2: "Automatic Message Taker?" You think they could've come up up with something snappier in the '50s, like "Auto-take-a-talk-a-tronanator."

Joke #3: Auto-take-a-talk-a-tronanator Storage Credenza sold separately.

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